Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven

Posted in Books

It’s well known on this blog that I am a sucker for hype, and book hype is no exception.  A book I read recently (that had a lorra lorra hype), was Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven.


Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven

Publication Date: 6th October 2016
Publisher: Penguin Books (UK)

Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout, the girl once dubbed “America’s Fattest Teen.” But no one’s taken the time to look past her weight to get to know who she really is. Following her mom’s death, she’s been picking up the pieces in the privacy of her home, dealing with her heartbroken father and her own grief. Now, Libby’s ready: for high school, for new friends, for love, and for every possibility life has to offer.

Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin, too. Yes, he’s got swagger, but he’s also mastered the impossible art of giving people what they want, of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a newly acquired secret: he can’t recognize faces. Even his own brothers are strangers to him. He’s the guy who can re-engineer and rebuild anything, but he can’t understand what’s going on with the inner workings of his brain. So he tells himself to play it cool: Be charming. Be hilarious. Don’t get too close to anyone.

Until he meets Libby. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game—which lands them in group counseling and community service—Libby and Jack are both pissed, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel. Because sometimes when you meet someone, it changes the world, theirs and yours.

Holding Up The Universe is the much anticipated second novel by Jennifer Niven.  Her first YA novel, All The Bright Places, had me wailing into my Whatsapp group chat.  Due to the popularity of All The Bright Places (it is now being made into a film), there was a lot of hype surrounding Holding Up The Universe.  However, there also seemed to be a few disputes (that’s putting it lightly!) over on GoodReads about the book.  Some loved it.  Some hated it.   The disputes made me feel slightly apprehensive about reading it, so I pushed it back down the To Be Read pile for another day.   However, it got to the point where I couldn’t put off reading it any longer.

So, what did I think?

Holding Up The Universe features two narratives from our main characters, Libby and JackLibby used to be “America’s Fattest Teen”, and it got to the point where she had to be cut out of her house.  After years of being homeschooled, she is going to high school for the first time. Personally, I think that Libby should have been the focus of Holding Up The Universe, but hey ho, Jennifer wanted to include Jack as well…  *shrugs*  Jack‘s story is that he suffers from Prosopagnosia, or in layman’s terms, he is “faceblind”.  He can’t recognise faces, even those of his family.  After Jack is dared to literally jump on Libby as part of a game called “Fat Girl Rodeo” *sighs heavily*, they strike up a friendship, which then turns into something more… *rolls eyes violently*

I’ll be brutally honest, I was incredibly bored whilst reading Holding Up The Universe.  It had such a slow pace, and nothing spectacular happened.   I desperately wish that Holding Up The Universe had focused on friendship instead of forcing a love story between Libby and Jack.  The “love” between Libby and Jack in no way felt genuine.  They had no chemistry whatsoever and considering their age, no sexual t ension between them (despite Libby’s daydreams of having sex with someone, as well as Jack nearly having sex with his on/off girlfriend AFTER breaking up with Libby *tuts*).   As I said above, my view is that Holding Up The Universe should have been about Libby.  If Jennifer Niven wanted to shed light on Prosopagnosia, then she should have focused the story on Jack. I think it was a terrible mistake mixing the two stories and narratives together.

Turning to the characters in depth now, I did not like Jack.  At all.  One of the main bones of contention for me was that I couldn’t understand why Jack didn’t tell SOMEONE about his condition early on, such as a doctor.   Whilst reading Holding Up The Universe, I made sure to take some notes for this review and I can see that at about 30% in I made a note to myself that I was sick of Jack’s repetitive narration.  Needless to say it didn’t improve.  There was a LOT of “info dumping” around the topic of Jack’s condition, and whilst I can understand why, I definitely glazed over at this part of the story.  Then again,  I think I glazed over at most of Jack’s chapters…

My feelings on Libby are mixed.  I had a lot of sympathy for her as she experienced an awful amount of bullying, hatred and prejudice from her classmates and strangers.  That sympathy quickly disappeared when she began to proclaim her undying love for Jack on their first date.  In fact, the date hadn’t even started when she had already decided they were going to have a daughter named Beatrice.   Oh honey, no.

In terms of the writing style and use of language in Holding Up The Universe, it was poor.  Jack’s narrative contained too many embarrassing metaphors, and there was a flat, monotone voice throughout both Libby’s and Jack’s narratives.  For example…

The way I feel when I’m with her. Like I just swallowed the sun and it’s shooting out of every pore. (Jack)

But he might as well say “I’m taking you to the moon and back, and while we’re up there I’m going to collect the stars for you so that you can keep them”. (Libby)


I rated Holding Up The Universe 2/5 stars on GoodReads as I found it to be a disappointing read.  A non-existent plot, slow pace, ungenuine love story and unlikeable characters – there wasn’t much to like.  Sorry J-Niv, but it’s a no from me.  I can understand what you were trying to do in theory but for me, it wasn’t executed that well.    Good luck with the ATBP film!

Dannie x

A copy of Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven provided in exchange for honest review.  No further compensation received.

December 18, 2016
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